Saturday 26 December 2009

RSHYR: Alfa Romeo Takes Round One

Start of the 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Image copyright ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo.

by Susan Maffei Plowden

Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo took round one of the battle of the maxis at the head of the 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with smart downwind tactics in Sydney Harbour.

After a two nautical-mile spinnaker run from the start off Shark Island, before a 10-knot south-southwesterly breeze, Alfa Romeo rounded the first clearing mark at Sydney Heads 30 seconds ahead of her near-sister Reichel/Pugh 100 design Wild Oats XI (Bob Oatley), with another 20 seconds to the British Farr 100-footer ICAP Leopard (Mike Slade).

These three strongly-sailed, professionally-managed maxis are favoured to lead the fleet into Hobart, 628n miles from the start.

Manoeuvring these giants for a downwind start among the smaller boats in the 100-boat fleet was challenging. With a minute to go, Alfa Romeo was caught ahead of the line and had to re-round to start on the gun.

Wild Oats XI, with speed and a smart spinnaker set, showed out as the early leader from a clear start near the middle of the long starting line spanning nearly the width of the harbour, followed closely by ICAP Leopard.

Alfa Romeo, starting nearer to the line's pin end, sharpened up with pace to gain an overlap to leeward on Leopard. Off Watsons Bay on the harbour's eastern shore, Alfa gybed away first on a patch of good pressure breeze; Wild Oats XI and Leopard followed. But as Alfa Romeo gybed again and came back fast on starboard gybe, she cleared them both to round the mark between the Heads clear ahead.

From there Alfa comfortably held her lead in a procession over the one nautical mile reach to the second clearing mark, another mile to seaward.

Fleet right after the start. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

As the fleet then sheeted on to head south, another procession developed. Starboard tack on about 155 degrees was by far the gaining leg towards not only Hobart, but the favourable flow of the Eastern Australian current, so tacking away on to port and heading inshore was not an option for the boats behind Alfa.

Next to round the seaward mark was another 100 ft maxi, Investec Loyal (Sean Langman), followed by the UK Judel/Vrolijk 72 Ran (Niklas Zennstrom), which is one of the favourites to take the race's major prize, the Tattersall's Cup, for the overall winner on IRC corrected time.

She was followed by Lahana (Peter Millard/John Horan), the Brett Bakewell-White 98, ex-Konica Minolta; Rapture, Brook Lenfest's 100ft Farr performance cruiser from the USA; Limit, the Reichel/Pugh 62 (Alan Brierty); Ludde Ingvall's Simonis Voogd 90 YuuZoo, which took line honours in 2004; the R/P 63 Loki (Stephen Ainsworth); R/P 55 Yendys (Geoff Ross) and the Farr 55 Living Doll (Michael Hiatt).

Grant Wharington's Jones 98 Etihad Stadium (ex-Wild Thing) retired with rig problems soon after starting. It was a near-miracle that Etihad Stadium even made the start after a two-week around-the-clock effort by crew members, mast-makers, and riggers to replace the mast broken on the delivery voyage from Melbourne.

The mast, a rebuild of a spare acquired from Neville Crichton, had to be cut in two for air-freighting from France to Sydney and re-rigged just in time for Etihad Stadium to get to the start line today without time for any testing under sail.

Wharington explained that ten minutes before the start, the crew discovered that the finely-tuned mast could not be kept in column. Misalignment of the runner blocks from the old rig meant that the runner tension of up to 15 tons could not be maintained.

"It was an incredibly tight set of circumstances and we needed everything to fall into place with 100 per cent agreement on everything to go to Hobart," Wharington said. It's an amazing feat to get to where we got, obviously disappointing just to miss out by the last one or two percent.

"I am enormously disappointed obviously and for my team more than anything because we've had probably 50 people working on this for the past two weeks and an enormous amount of input from every single person."

Another sad retirement was the Inglis 39 She's the Culprit (Todd Leary) from Hobart, seriously holed on the long journey home in a collision with another competitor (as yet unidentified) soon after the start.

Fleet heads out of the Harbour after the start of the 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

Untypically for Sydney at this time of year, Boxing Day was wet and cold, which greatly reduced the size of the spectator fleet. Though with this came the benefit of also reducing the crush of powerboaters that often disrupt the fleet with their wakes once past the outer sea mark, which is beyond the spectator control areas inside the harbour.

Five hours after the start, with the sou'-wester freshening to 25 knots and a difficult short chop developing offshore, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's satellite yacht tracker system showed Alfa Romeo still leading by a mile from Wild Oats XI, which was just 0.2nm ahead of ICAP Leopard.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

RSHYR: RÁN takes charge of Rolex Sydney Hobart overall lead

Niklas Zennstrom's JV72 RAN. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

by Di Pearson

The new British yacht RÁN has taken the overall lead of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race this afternoon, Niklas Zennstrom and his crew making an early charge on Zennstrom’s hope to win the 628 nautical mile race on handicap, adding to his overall win of the Rolex Fastnet Race in August.

The Judel/Vrolijk designed 72 footer launched only this year, has some of the world’s top sailors such as Steve Hayles, Adrian Stead and Richard Bouzaid aboard, helping to power the big grey yacht through a 20 knot southerly gusting to 25 at times on a bumpy sea.

RÁN’s early overall lead is no surprise according to Limit’s principal helmsman, Ian ‘Barney’ Walker, who has stated a couple of times this week: “RÁN is the boat to beat,” and “the forecast will suit it – it’s great in moderate upwind conditions and will probably get away from the rest of us.”

Walker said the rest of the overall contenders would get their chance when the breeze lightens on Sunday or Monday. “Hopefully RÁN won’t have taken too much out of us by then.”

Limit, owned by Alan Brierty (CYCA), is another of the favourites to take out the Tattersall’s Cup, awarded to the overall winner, particularly after winning the Rolex Trophy Rating Series last week.

Matt Allen, the Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the race organiser, is currently second placed with his Jones 70, Ichi Ban, with Geoff Boettcher’s Secret Mens Business 3.5 hanging in the top three.

ICAP Leopard was setting the pace at the front of the fleet, Mike Slade’s British 100 footer leading four-time successive line honours winner Wild Oats XI (Bob Oatley) from NSW and Alfa Romeo, Neville Crichton’s New Zealand entry. All three maxis are 100 feet long.

In other news, there has been a third retirement from the race. Roger Sayers’ Farr 37 Pippin retired off Botany Bay at approximately 4.00pm, after his high pressure diesel pump jammed. “It can’t be fixed at sea,” said the disappointed Queensland owner/skipper.

“It means we have no battery power, so can’t report in, so there is no point continuing on,” stated Sayers who also said, “we all put in so much work and to be out of the race at this early stage is a bitter disappointment.”

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

RSHYR: Alfa Romeo and RÂN stake their claims at the start, no fairy tale for Etihad Stadium

Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo. Image copyright ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo.

by Jim Gale

Neville Crichton’s 100 foot maxi Alfa Romeo this afternoon grabbed bragging rights from arch rival Wild Oats XI by being the first yacht out of Sydney Harbour at the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

The race began under grey, drizzly conditions in a moderate 12 to 15 knot southerly breeze

With the boom of the starting canon still echoing across the Harbour there was a frantic explosion of colourful spinnakers across the fleet, the only colour on this very un-Sydney summers day.

The fastest route to the turning mark appeared to be up along the eastern shore, a gybe across back into the centre of the harbour, and then another gybe to lay the first mark. On board Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards abandoned his signature favoured start on the western pin end, crossing the centre of the starting line close to ICAP Leopard and racing towards Nielsen Park on starboard tack.

Alfa Romeo was content with a conservative start, trailing Wild Oats XI and ICAP Leopard across the starting line by several boat lengths. There seemed to be nothing between the speeds of the three giant yachts until they started to approach Watson’s Bay. Alfa Romeo suddenly seemed to find an extra gear, powering up beside the leading two boats. As she drew level with the upwind yachts Alfa Romeo copped their dirty air, and peeled off to gybe back across the harbour towards the western side, while the others pressed on, closing in on the spectator fleet. They should have followed Alfa Romeo.

Crichton’s 100 footer found that little extra breeze on the western side of the harbour and as Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats XI converged again as they lined up for the final charge to the first tuning mark Alfa Romeo was in command. Dirty air from nearby ICAP Leopard compounded Wild Oats XI’s disadvantage as she desperately tried to get her huge spinnaker around her forestay, and the giant sail dipped into the water.

By the time the boats reached the first mark and turned out through the Heads, Alfa Romeo had a 27 second lead over Wild Oats XI with ICAP Leopard a further 15 seconds behind.

With spinnakers hastily stowed below decks the three began a broad reach towards the seaward mark under main and genoa, reaching speeds of 14 knots in the lumpy, uncomfortable chop between the Heads. Despite the weather a reasonable fleet of spectator craft followed them out to sea.

Alfa Romeo would go on to hold that lead over Wild Oats XI by 21 seconds at the sea mark, the first time Bob Oatley’s silver grey maxi has been behind on the turn to Hobart for four years straight. Is this an omen?

Just seconds after the three front runners had dropped their spinnakers and began the reach out to the sea mark the British 72 footer RÂN loomed up to the mark, side by side with fourth placed 100 foot maxi, Investec LOYAL. Rounding the mark inside Investec LOYAL, RÂN laid claim to fourth out of the Harbour, and confirmed her position as one of the absolute pre-race favourites for handicap.

They were followed by two more 100 maxis, YuuZoo and Lahana surged up to the mark racing side by side, and just behind them Alan Brierty’s 62 foot Limit and a further 150 metres behind her, Geoff Ross’ Reichel Pugh 55 Yendys.

Both Limit and Yendys were outstanding in the lead up Rolex Trophy and Passage Series last week. A lot will happen between now and the finish in Hobart, and both will have their work cut out for them to hang onto RÂN in conditions that suit her down to the ground, but after such great starts they were cock-a-hoop.

“We had a great start on the pin end with Ran and Loki and got to the sea mark in good shape,” Yendys’ navigator Will Oxley reported not long after they cleared the sea mark.

“We are hard on the breeze in 20-23 knots and a lumpy sea state. The wind is holding to the right of the Rhumbline (the most direct course to Hobart) so the fleet are mostly proceeding seaward on starboard and we are all watching to see who will be the first to tack back towards the coast.”

Disappointment, though, for Grant Wharington and the crew of Etihad Stadium.

It was a miracle that they were on the start line at all. Two weeks ago the maxi lost her mast on the delivery trip to Sydney from her homeport of Melbourne. Since then it has been a race against time to fly a new, 44 metre carbon fibre mast from France, bake it back together after it was cut in two to fit onto the plane, put it into the boat and recut the giant sails to suit the new, longer spar. They looked to have somehow got it done by midnight last night. There were still a hundred things to fine tune, but it looked as though they could race.

Ten minutes from the start the fairy tale began to unravel. “We realised we weren’t able to keep the mast exactly in column (straight in layman’s terms) and we weren’t sure why because we hadn’t got it up to full racing pressure, so we started, and cleared ourselves of the fleet, so we wouldn’t impede any other boat, then sailed back up the harbour to see if we could sort it out,” Wharington explained. As the fleet pounded its way out to sea Etihad Stadium tacked around the harbour trying to fine tune the rigging. Under the race rules boats have six hours to clear the seaward mark, race officials promising to leave the marks in place until then.

But as Etihad Stadium circled her crew found a second problem, this time the blocks that manage the 15 tonne forces on the masts runners were out of alignment. Her race was over.

“I said all along that all the planets had to line up for us to be race ready. We had transport delays in France, aeroplane delays - everything had to fall into place,” Wharington said dockside. “I’m enormously disappointed, especially for my team. We have had more than 50 people working on this for the last two weeks, and an enormous input from every single person to get us so close.”

“We’ll have a couple of beers tonight and there’s a little bit of discussion around the camp that we might come out next week for another race that heads north.“

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

RSHYR: Wet but spectacular spinnaker start to Rolex Sydney Hobart

Wild Oats, ICAP Leopard and Alfa Romeo unfurling their spinnakers. Image copyright ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo.

by Di Pearson

It may have been raining and overcast, but the start of the 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was still nothing short of spectacular as yacht crews popped spinnakers in a 12-15 knot southerly, just after the 1.00pm start on Sydney Harbour today. Before they had the chance the exit the Harbour, things went pear-shaped for four yachts.

The first retirements came from Grant Wharington and his 98ft yacht Etihad Stadium and Todd Leary’s modified Inglis 39, She’s the Culprit, shortly after 2.00pm. Wharington reported rigging problems on his Victorian maxi, while Leary’s yacht from Tasmania sustained two lots of damage after another competitor took out their back railing and punched a hole the size of a man’s fist in the starboard side of the yacht, causing it to take on water at the first turning mark. Leary, devastated, has left it up to two of his crew members to file a protest.

Last year’s overall winner, Quest, owned and skippered by Bob Steel, and Robin Hawthorn (Imagination) advised the race committee they had each executed 720 penalty turns for infringements inside the Harbour.

Neville Crichton and his 100ft Alfa Romeo from New Zealand led the fleet out of the Harbour after peeling away from Wild Oats XI (Bob Oatley) and ICAP Leopard (Mike Slade) and heading to the Western shore. Crichton led both at the first mark and then the seaward mark, with Wild Oats XI (NSW) and ICAP Leopard (GBR), also measuring 100 feet, trailing her.

Alan Brierty’s RP 62 Limit, representing the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, organisers of the race, was looking healthy as the overall leader, being the eighth boat to pass the sea mark just behind the 30 metre maxi Lahana, owned by Peter Millard and John Honan (Qld) and well in front of near-sistership Loki, the RP 63 owned by Stephen Ainsworth (CYCA).

NSW Maritime general manager Recreational Boating Brett Moore said the spectator fleet was around 1000 boats and below expectations. ”The wet weather and grey skies look to have kept the spectator fleet down in size this year,” he said.

Spectator fleets for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race start can reach up to 3000 boats.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

RSHYR: Etihad Stadium first high profile casualty

by Lisa Ratcliff

Melbourne maxi Etihad Stadium is the first high profile casualty of the 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a disappointed owner/skipper Grant Wharington officially retiring at 2.05pm this afternoon citing rigging issues.

The 98 footer from Victoria started off the front line following the 1pm blast of cannon fire, pulling up at the Sow & Pigs navigation marks in Sydney Harbour and advising the race committee they weren’t comfortable with the rigging and were going to spend some time checking it within the confines of the Harbour.

The crew spent just over an hour sailing up and down the Harbour before Wharington decided he wasn’t comfortable going to sea.

Etihad Stadium is under motor heading to Sydney City Marine.

Wharington and his crew undertook a mammoth effort to get the boat to today’s start line. Fifteen days ago, Etihad Stadium was dismasted on route to Sydney, the replacement rig only arriving from France on Monday evening and the crew working around the clock to step the new mast.

Todd Leary’s She’s the Culprit from Tasmania was the first official race retirement, due to damage sustained at the first mark at 2:08:34 – she will be protesting over the incident

To acknowledge an infringement Bob Steel’s Quest, last year’s overall winner, radioed the race committee to advise they had completed a 720 degree penalty turn following a minor collision with Lion New Zealand at the Harbour mark. Robin and Annette’s Hawthorn’s Imagination also acknowledged a 720 degree penalty turn following an incident.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

RSHYR: Tactical decisions the key to 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart

Crowds at the CYCA marina in Rushcutters Bay, prior to the start of the 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

by Jim Gale

The Rolex Sydney Hobart will start this year under spinnaker in a moderate southerly breeze. As the yachts turn out to sea the spinnakers will be shoved down below, and they’ll stay there for most of the race, judging by the weather briefing given to skippers this morning by the Bureau of Meteorology’s Rob Webb.

Yesterday’s hopes of a north easterly breeze well out to sea appear to have evaporated: “those going east for a nor’easter might have to go a long way,” Web remarked.

Instead the fleet will spend this afternoon bashing into a 20 to 25 knot southerly, possibly easing around to the south east as the trough off NSW moves further offshore tonight.

Tomorrow the leading yachts are expected to encounter light winds in Bass Strait while the bulk of the fleet is still contending with a light south to south-easter along the NSW coast.

Monday afternoon’s forecast is for a moderate 20 to 25 knot westerly in Bass Strait, but these westerlies mean the fleet will be in the lee of the Tasmanian coast on the final leg to Tasman Island, so decisions about whether to sail the most direct course, and risk becalming, or to go further out and risk a long beat into a westerly wind to make the final turn into Storm Bay will be critical.

Adding to the uncertainty will be a serious of fronts moving across southern Tasmania. How these develop will have a significant impact on wind direction and strength.

The forecast is bad news for downwind speedboats like Bruce Taylor’s Victorian IRC 40 Chutzpah, but generally it is difficult to say which boats will get the most advantage from these conditions.

“It is confusing,” sailing master of last year’s overall winner Quest, Mike Green, laughed after the weather briefing. “We won’t really know what the weather is like until 12 hours into the race. It all depends on how the trough moves. There will be a lot of holes (areas with no wind) on the way to Hobart and that’s what will be hard about this race. Trying to stay out of them.”

Ian ‘Barney’ Walker, the helmsman of another pre-race favourite, Limit, says he is pretty happy with the forecast. “We go well in all conditions,” he says, but he does think that the current forecast will suit the English 72 footer RÂN, winner of this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race. “RÁN will be our biggest headache, she will be the boat to beat.”

Walker expects RÂN to put a lot of distance on her main rivals, the 50 to 60 footers, in the first 24 hours. But as the breeze lightens off in Bass Strait he hopes the smaller boats will be able to claw back some of that lost ground. “If it stays light enough long enough we’ll get back into the race with them,” he says, but thinks that right now RÂN should be favoured to pull off an extraordinary feat. - the Rolex Sydney Hobart and Fastnet races in the same year.

Perhaps for the first time in his life Grant Wharington, the skipper of the 100 foot maxi Etihad Stadium quite likes the idea of a lighter wind race. After an horrendous fortnight following the dismasting of his boat on its way to Sydney from Melbourne, Wharington and his crew have their new mast in place and will make the starting line today. “We finished at midnight last night, and the guys started again art 5a, this morning, but that is the most sleep we’ve had in two weeks,” he said.

More than 50 people have been involved in an epic race against time, to get the new mast from France, to bake it back together again, fit it to the boat and recut sails to fit the taller, lighter spar.

Ironically, the reward for all the stress is a faster boat. “The performance of the boat is going to be turbo charged with this new mast. We have more sail area than we had. We had already put a new keel on the boat that made us three and a half tonnes lighter for the same righting moment. It’s like if you were racing a V8 and you had an extra hundred horsepower. It’s incredible.

“There are still a hundred little jobs to do fine tuning the mast, and now they will have to be done on the racecourse. The lighter winds are a blessing.”

The line honours favourites remain the two 100 footers - Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI and Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo. There is nothing between these boats, and it is likely that one critical tactical decision, most likely off the Tasmanian coast, will prove the difference.

Alfa Romeo’s tactician Tom Addis believes the winner of the line honours duel is likely to win the Tattersall’s Cup as well. “This race will be way different for the different size boats in the fleet. From our perspective the bigger boats will be faster, able to sail much freer angles and the faster you can be from early on the better life will be. The forecast weather could create a big split between the big boats and the rest of the fleet. I’m happy to be on a bigger boat. There will be times on this race when some of the fleet will be reaching, some will be running and some will be going upwind,” Addis predicts.

“The race for overall will come down to the light airs once they are out of Bass Strait. That’s where the race will be lost or won.”

Grant Wharington is back into the race courtesy of the mast and sails he bought from Alfa Romeo owner Neville Crichton. It makes for an interesting scenario. What if Etihad Stadium gets to Hobart first?

“I guess he’s probably not considering us a threat at this stage and that’s why he has been so generous helping us out,” Wharington jokes. “It will be a very interesting handshake in Hobart if we get there in front of him.”

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Friday 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas from Mascalzone Latino

Our best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. Christmas image copyright Mascalzone Latino.

Mascalzone Latino

RSHYR: Cyclone Legacy for Rolex Sydney Hobart Race Start

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race boats at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

by Lisa Ratcliff

The low pressure system remnant of a tropical cyclone crossing the continent is setting up a tricky wind pattern for the Rolex Sydney Hobart race, for its Boxing Day start.

While the scenario is still changing, pockets of light breeze to be negotiated between two major wind systems look to have removed the prospects of a record-breaking run by one of the hi-tech collection of maxi yachts in the fleet.

Barry Hanstrum, senior forecaster for the NSW Bureau of Meteorology, predicts that the fleet of 100 boats will probably start in a light to moderate southerly, which would mean a spectacular spinnaker start in Sydney Harbour on Saturday, then a beat to windward in 10-20 knots as the fleet reaches the open sea.

While the wind would back to the east - northeast offshore, a low pressure trough would create lighter air inshore. A west to southwest change on Sunday night in the Bass Strait of 20-30 knots would continue into Monday, December 28.

Yendys' Will Oxley, one of the fleet's top navigators with 11 Hobart races on his CV, sees the situation on the first day as even trickier. "It looks quite important to stay in the east; in the west you are likely to run out of breeze earlier. The big boats will get into the nor'easterly breeze, clear of the trough, first."

But Oxley believes the big boats will run out of breeze and "park" in the lee of the Tasmanian coast. "I think the race is going to be won or lost off the Tasmanian coast with the transitioning of that light wind area into the new breeze that comes on the 28th."

Against the forecast and form shown in the Rolex Rating warm-up regattas, the two well-prepared, settled, Reichel/Pugh 100s Wild Oats XI (Bob Oatley) and Alfa Romeo (Neville Crichton) will lead the charge of the seven maxis towards the line honours finishing gun on Battery Point, Hobart.

The forecast, with its mix of light weather, does not suit Mike Slade's Farr 100 ICAP Leopard, a great upwind performer. "We'd like strong upwind for the first 12 hours and then when you look down to Gabo Island going into Bass Strait, there's pockets there of intense weakness and you could sit there for five hours," said Slade.

Mike Slade, ICAP Leopard. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

"I've done that in this race in the 1990's and the boys that had gone offshore in a different breeze came in six hours ahead of us."

Top prospects for the race's major prize, the Tattersall's Cup for the overall winner on IRC handicap, are to be found in IRC division one, the 50 to 63 footers.

Among these are the TP52s, including last year's Tattersall's Cup winner Quest (Bob Steel), Ragamuffin (Syd Fischer), Cougar II (Alan Whiteley), all Farr designs. Others include the Reichel/Pugh near sisterships Loki (Stephen Ainsworth), R/P63 and Limit (Alan Brierty), R/P62; Farr 55 Living Doll (Michael Hiatt); R/P55 Yendys (Geoff Ross) and the UK-based Judel/Vrolijk 72, Ran (Niklas Zennstrom), the overall winner of this year's Rolex Fastnet Race.

Ran's tactician Adrian Stead, who has sailed in two Rolex Sydney Hobart Races, said of the official race forecast, "We knew it was going to be difficult getting out and away from Sydney depending on where the trough lines up."

He said the weather was still evolving. "It's not a straight-forward race, so that means we've got to think a lot. We're going to see a range of conditions, which is good because there are a lot of boats here that are probably fast in one condition, slow in others. So I think it could be a well-balanced race."

Neville Crichton, owner of ALFA ROMEO, and Mark Richards, skipper of WILD OATS XI. ALFA ROMEO, Sail Number: NZL80, Skipper: Neville Crichton, State: NZ, Division: IRC, Design: Reichel Pugh , LOA (m): 30.48, Draft: 5.1 WILD OATS XI, Sail Number: AUS10001, Skipper: Robert Oatley, State: NSW, Division: IRC, Design: Reichel Pugh , LOA (m): 30.48, Draft: 5.5 Press Conference. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

Audio of Neville Crichton, ALFA ROMEO, and Mark Richards, WILD OATS XI, discussing their prospects for the 2009 RSHYR

Other overseas boats

Sole American entry is Rapture, another 100-footer, a Farr-designed performance cruiser, owned by Brook Lenfest and crewed by a mix of international and Australian sailors. Since launching in 2007, she has raced and cruised more than 24,000 miles on a world circumnavigation. In Sydney, her crew has stripped out much of the cruising gear to reduce weight.

Lenfest, who competed in the 2002 RSH in his previous yacht, a Swan 86, enjoys the challenge of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. "We have had a lot of races around the world sailed in lighter winds that are very predictable," he says. "We like the unpredictability of the Hobart race and we like a lot of wind."

Back for the second successive year is 41-Sud, an Archambault 40 from New Caledonia, skippered by Jean-Luc Esplaas, who with the Young 11 Noumea, survived the 1998 Sydney Hobart Race storm to place third in their division. Last year by contrast, 41-Sud slowed for 11 hours in calms off the Tasmanian coast to place seventh in division.

Yendys' skipper Geoff Ross. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

Also back for more after suffering in those calms last year is Pinta-M, a 1972 vintage aluminium Sparkman & Stephens 41, owned and skippered by Atse Blei from the Netherlands, which has raced successfully in North Sea events and finished fifth overall in IRC on corrected time in the 2005 Rolex Fastnet Race.

Pinta-M placed third in their division last year after being becalmed for a frustrating hour, only three miles from the finish. Blei decided to leave the boat in Australia to contest this year's race, hoping for the robust upwind conditions that she enjoys most.

The Spanish entry Charisma, owned by banker Alejandro Perez Calzada from Barcelona, is on an around-the-world cruising mission with racing in major events along the way. This is another S&S IOR boat from the 1970's, which under original owner Jesse Phillips raced for the USA in the Admiral's Cup international teams series in 1973 and 1975.

Calzada bought the sturdy aluminium-hulled Charisma from a Seattle owner in 2003, restored her to better than new condition, fitted a new carbon mast and rig and began his global racing program with the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race. She sailed the Newport Bermuda Race in 2008 and this year won her division in the Los Angeles-Honolulu Transpac Race.

A fleet of 100 yachts will compete in this year's race, which starts at 1300 AEDT, 26 December 2009. The Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet will have crews representing the USA, UK, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, and New Caledonia as well as every Australian state.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

RSHYR: Everyone has a chance with mixed bag of weather for Rolex Sydney Hobart

Dockside at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

by Di Pearson

This morning the Bureau of Meteorology’s Rob Webb delivered his Christmas news to those taking part in the 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a mixed bag of weather, which will give every boat in the 100-strong fleet opportunities to make their mark.

The news was so well received that even talk of impending rain for the Boxing Day race start at 1.00pm did not dampen the enthusiasm of those at the weather briefing held at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) this morning.

The rain will not distract the big boat crews from the job ahead, the mixed winds still leaving windows of opportunities to not only win the race on line, but to also take overall honours. Yachts such as main favourites, Wild Oats XI (Bob Oatley) from NSW and main rival Alfa Romeo.

While spectators may be eyeing the big boats, traditionally the 628 nautical mile race is about the overall handicap win, the Tattersall’s Cup. Webb told assembled yacht owners, navigators and tacticians at this morning’s briefing that different weather systems are likely to thread their way through the fleet each day; conditions that give an equal chance to all competitors.

Will Oxley, the navigator on Geoff Ross’ RP 55 Yendys (NSW), agrees. “If the big boats get to the Derwent before the southerly, then they’ll be likely to win (on handicap). The forecast has got something for everyone though.

“There’s plenty of 50-60ft weather in that forecast for an overall win,” said Oxley referring to the grand prix boats in the 50 to 60 feet range, those yachts that have been touted as those most likely to win the Tattersall’s Cup.

Last year’s overall winner, Bob Steel, who also won the race in 2002 with a previous Quest, was more conservative in his estimations: “Based on the weather, it could be a big boat race on handicap, but I’m hoping that the Derwent will be as fickle as she’s renowned for so that some of the smaller boats are in with a chance.”

Competitors can expect a 15-20 southerly for the race start, courtesy of a low pressure system on Friday evening that is set to continue into Saturday in Sydney waters.

This prediction means a collection of spinnakers, a spectator’s dream come true, as the fleet leaves Sydney Harbour.

Once the yachts have cleared Sydney Heads, turned right and are heading south to Hobart, spinnakers will be dropped and the race will start in earnest as crews head to windward, sitting on the rail with the spray hitting their faces.

As Neville Crichton said after today’s briefing: “The real race starts when we get out of the Heads.”

Webb said a trough will develop and hang offshore, then follow the fleet south, with a north-easterly sea breeze trying to develop on Sunday morning. This is where the largest of the 100-strong fleet will have the opportunity to do some serious damage, by taking the opportunity to make up some big miles in downwind conditions.

Tacticians and navigators will have to be quick to get into the next system because by Sunday evening the trough is expected to produce south to south-westerly winds of 15-20 knots offshore in the Bass Strait region, while inshore the breeze is expected to be light and fickle.

The low will continue moving south on Sunday and Monday, bringing south-westerly winds, with the possibility of gale-force westerlies (34-47 knots average and greater).

“The 28th of December is where the tacticians and navigators come into play – make or break time,” Oxley, a respected international yachtsman said.

Oxley went on to say: “The first day will be all about boat speed. On the 27th it will be all about boat handling skills and the 28th, during the course of the day, is where the race will be won or lost.”

Webb said sailors could expect a weak north-easterly current with minimal effect on the fleet.

Mark Richards, skipper of the now 100ft (she was 98ft until late this year) race record holder Wild Oats XI, which is aiming for an unprecedented fifth line honours victory, said: “It’s going to be a very tricky race, but we will try to get there first.

While main rival Neville Crichton said: “I predict we’ll finish the race in just under two days. It will be incredibly close racing. The right sail choice and position on course will be imperative. ICAP Leopard (the UK 100 footer owned by Mike Slade) and Wild Oats XI will be our closest competitors.”

Elusive as ever on whether Wild Oats XI could win the race for a fifth consecutive time, Richards responded: “We’ve had to fight for each win. Ocean racing is a tough sport and Mother Nature always plays a key role in our performance.”

Matt Allen, Commodore of the CYCA which organises the Rolex Sydney Hobart each year, was quick with his response on which yacht would take line honours: “I’d have my money on Wild Oats XI or Alfa Romeo,” he said.

The Commodore also delivered a timely warning: “Spectators should please keep their distance from competing yachts by at least 100 metres, particularly given the incredible speeds yachts can achieve under spinnaker.”

Asked if he was concerned sharing the front start line with so many other big boats and if his would be the first yacht tied up in Constitution Dock in Hobart, Neville Crichton responded: “I just want to get out of the Heads in one piece and make it to Hobart the same way.”

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Etihad Stadium Mast is Up

by Jody O'Brien

Thirteen days after dismasting in Bass Strait on the delivery sail from Melbourne to Sydney, the Etihad Stadium maxi is now looking like a 98 foot ocean racing machine again.

The 44 metre mast was successfully installed just after 3am on 24th December with a very large crane and all hands on deck at Sydney City Marine.

Skipper and owner Grant Wharington is pretty pleased with the outcome.

“We’ve managed to do what many have been saying would be impossible – a big thanks to the boys from Hart Marine and the Southern Spars project team – they’ve done an absolutely sensational job” he said.

“And to our fantastic crew who have all played a very significant role – without their help, their skills and their shared passion to get to the start line, we simply wouldn’t be where we are now – and that is with the mast back in the boat and sails ready to be put on later this morning “ he said.

The basic installation of the 44 metre mast is complete, and the crew are now getting some sleep before re-convening later this morning to being the process of tuning the rig – adjusting the tension on ropes and stays, as well as checking and re-checking all the fixtures and fittings.

“We’ve still got a fair bit of work to do, but we’ll get there !” said the exhausted skipper.

In the midst of the crane delicately lowering the mast into the deck, Grant remembered the special coin that needed to be placed on the bottom of the mast before it was fixed in place.

Salty sea dog superstition and folklore indicates that placing a silver coin on the bottom of the mast before stepping it into the boat brings good luck, with the coin needing to be of sentimental significance.

An Australian ten cent piece, date stamped 2003, was used – the significance being that the boat’s sail number is 10 and in 2003 they won line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart when the boat was known as Skandia.

“We figured that after the run of not so great luck we’ve had over the last couple of weeks, and given that we’ve all got a bit of a superstitious streak, it was a good idea to do it !” said Grant.

“All going to plan, maybe some of that good luck generated from the coin might come our way in a few days time when we head south in the Great Race” he said.

The crew will spend the morning at the marina, and hope to get out on the water for a test sail in the early afternoon. Timing for this is yet to be determined and will be known later this morning.

Etihad Stadium/Wild Thing Yachting

Thursday 24 December 2009

America's Cup: Statement from the Société Nautique de Genève

by Société Nautique de Genève

Société Nautique de Genève and Alinghi thank Golden Gate Yacht Club and BMW Oracle for their Christmas gift and their wishes for further litigation in the New Year!

"Having disqualified all other Challengers for the 33rd America's Cup through their legal strategy, Larry Ellison's team is now trying to do the same with the Defender and continues to pursue its attempt to win the America's Cup in court rather than on the race course," says Fred Meyer, SNG vice-commodore.

"We fear that this is an attempt by BMW Oracle to avoid racing Alinghi on 8 February," adds Grant Simmer, Alinghi design team coordinator.

BMW Oracle's accusations regarding the defending yacht are simply false: Alinghi 5 complies with the Deed of Gift "constructed in country" requirement, it was built in Switzerland and so are its sails.

Société Nautique de Genève

Wednesday 23 December 2009

America's Cup: Statement by Tom Ehman, Golden Gate Yacht Club

by Tom Ehman

America's Cup defender Societe Nautique de Geneve has been asked if Alinghi 5 will meet the event's nationality rules.

In a letter today to SNG, GGYC Commodore Marcus Young wrote, "We find the Deed to be clear and unambiguous. It requires that the yacht, including its hull, appendages, mast and sails, be constructed in the country of the club it represents. We have gone to great lengths to comply with the Deed in all respects, including 'constructed-in-country', and expect that your Club will do so as well."

Alinghi 5 has been sailing continually weith sails made at Minden, Nevada in the USA.

Absent agreement on the constructed-in-country interpretation, the five-member International Jury recently appointed by the International Sailing Federation would be asked to rule on the matter.

Both yachts should come to the start "street-legal". The sailing world expects this, and wants to know before the Match is sailed, not after. Having the Jury in place allows sailing matters to be dealt with by sailing experts.

GGYC's objective is that the on-the-water result of the 33rd Match be conclusive. Any remaining contentious issues should be dealt with properly before the Match is sailed. No one wants the outcome of the Match to have a question mark hanging over it.

Golden Gate Yacht Club

Ben Ainslie Back in the Finn

by Ben Ainslie

It has been a very cold but very refreshing week in more ways than one as I returned to Finn sailing for the first time since Beijing 2008 at a British Finn squad training camp at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.

This was the first time I’d even stepped back into a Finn since the Olympics and it has proved to be a really worthwhile week just sailing the boat again and being around the rest of the guys in the squad.

I had two main aims going into the week having been concentrating on big boat sailing for the past 18 months. Firstly I wanted to just reacquaint myself with the Finn and get used to sailing a dinghy again and secondly I wanted to move the technical side forward as well as checking in with where the other guys were at in terms of fitness.

The guys in the Finn squad have obviously been working really hard on their racing since I last trained with them before the Olympics. They have just come off the back of a two-month break so they were also a little rusty although not as rusty as me!

It has actually felt quite natural slipping back into dinghy sailing and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was able to hold my own in races.
Because I’m lighter than my ideal Finn racing weight I thought I’d be fine in the lighter airs but was worried I’d be left for dead in the breeze but I’ve actually not been too bad and have been happy with my own pace. I know there is still a lot to improve on but it was reassuring to be sailing at a good level while knowing I can still make some big gains.

It has been really cold, and it has been a long, long time since I’ve sailed in conditions like this! When it is so cold you can’t really spend any more than three-and-a-half hours or so at a time on the water but the work we have been doing has been really focussed and there have been some good races.
Off the water, we’ve also been able to train in the great new gym the RYA has built as part of its new centre at Portland Marina and I’ve been working on the logistical and technical aspects of my campaign with my coach David Howlett.

I’ve worked with David for so long I trust him completely. I arrived at Weymouth from Malaysia where Team Origin had been competing in the Monsoon Cup - the final round of the 2009 World Match Racing Tour - via one day at the Paris Boat Show and my Finn, as I knew it would be, was fully rigged and ready to go. If I’d had to do it myself I’d have spent a couple of day’s faffing about getting my kit together.

We are testing a new boat, new masts and a fair bit of new equipment, there’s been a lot going on. I hope to get some more time in the Finn at the end of January and start of February before I head off to New Zealand with Origin for the next of the Louis Vuitton Trophy events.

I’ll be looking to get back into the Finn full-time at the end of 2010 and be racing again in 2011. However although my focus for 2010 is TP52 and match racing, and whatever may happen with the America’s Cup, I know if there is the opportunity to fit in a bit of Finn training and testing in Valencia or Palma, for example, David will be able to get the boat there, which could be invaluable.

The great support I receive from JP Morgan Asset Management makes a huge difference in enabling us to make this sort of thing happen, to make sure we are getting the right equipment and are maximising the time available outside of the America’s Cup campaign.

It has been a hectic couple of months competing with Team Origin at the Louis Vuitton Trophy event in Nice before flying to Perth for the Australia Cup match racing event and then to Malaysia for the Monsoon Cup so I am really looking forward to having a bit of time off over Christmas and New Year and getting away with my family and friends.

May I wish everyone a happy and safe Christmas and see you all in 2010.

Ben Ainslie

RSHYR: Race for Tattersall’s Cup wide open

Overall Contenders Geoff Ross Yendys, Simon Fisher-Limit, Lindsay May-Love&War, Michael Bellingham-Loki. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

by Jim Gale

Geoff Ross, the skipper of the Reichel/Pugh 55 Yendys and outright winner of the race in 1999 reckons that not even Nostradamus could predict the winner of this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart. “This is the most competitive race I’ve sailed in 15 years of sailing to Hobart,” he says.

In place of the usual two or three maxis match racing for line honours there will be eight at the start line, and while Wild Oats XI and Alfa Romeo will be at each other’s throats, none of the other six have come along to make up the numbers.

This is ICAP Leopard’s skipper Mike Slade’s fourth and possibly last crack at the title, and he hasn’t invested the sort of money it takes to ship a 100 foot yacht and its fully professional crew halfway round the world for the fun of it. ICAP Leopard won line honours in the Rolex Fastnet Race in August, and could well pull off the Fastnet/Hobart double.

Even more competitive, though, is the race for the Tattersall’s Cup, the trophy awarded to the outright winner on handicap, and the holy grail of Australian yachting. Will it go to one of the grand prix TP52s, the red hot 60 footers like Loki and Limit, the British 72 footer RÂN, which won the Rolex Fastnet and fancies a double just as much as Mike Slade, or with a big westerly forecast for Bass Strait on day three of the race, when the bigger boats are already tied up in Constitution Dock, could this be the year of the little boats?

Tattersall's Cup for the overall handicap winner. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

It depends on the winds, and with the cyclone in West Australia leaving the weather forecasting models in a confused heap, no-one knows for sure what to expect.

“The TP52s will dominate if it’s a light downhill race because that’s their sweet spot,” says Ross. Yendys was built with heavy, typical Rolex Sydney Hobart weather in mind, but this year modifications have also improved her all round performance. Last weekend she beat Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin and RÂN in moderate conditions in the Rolex Trophy Passage Series, a huge moral boost for Ross and his crew. “If you look at the 60 footers I think we are very competitive. We are very competitive up and downwind with the modifications. “

Ross will be happy, though, if the wind picks up from the south. He was about the only one complaining in Hobart last year after the sort of ideal, downwind jaunt normally reserved for sailor’s fairy tales. He thought it was a bit boring. “Yendys has been built for really heavy weather and in three years it’s never let us down. Structurally it’s a very good boat. I’m not quite as strong structurally but I can put up with it,” he laughs.

Other boats, too are hoping for a bit of breeze. “When we conceived of RÂN the challenge was to build a boat that would perform in the light winds of the Mediterranean but also sustain the big weather of the Rolex Sydney Hobart,” says her skipper, Niklas Zennstrom.

“We have a bigger bulb on the keel and a fuller hull for tough conditions but it does mean we struggle in very light wind.”

Zennstrom believes he has the edge on the two near sisterships, Stephen Ainsworth’s RP63 Loki and Alan Brierty’s RP62 Limit if there is some upwind work but concedes that they will hurt him in a light, downwind race.

The local sailors, though, are wary of the British boat and her highly credentialed crew. “Overseas boats that come here tend to do particularly well. People don’t come here for fun, they’re serious. They won’t hold back,” warns Loki’s navigator Michael Bellingham. “We are all very cautious about RÂN, the new kid on the block, so it was good to see [during the Rolex Trophy Passage Series] that we are all very competitive with her.”

Last year the crew had barely two weeks to get the brand new Loki onto the starting line, finishing a worthy seventh overall. With a full year to finesse the boat Bellingham believes Loki has a real shot at the Tattersall’s Cup this year. “We’re pretty happy with Loki. The conditions look good for us. We are a good all round boat, it’s a matter of whether the people on board are up to it.

“We’ve done a lot of work on the sails and maximising our rating, but these things are racing machines and they’re fraught with danger and problems and you always have to be cautious, sailing within the limits of the boat, and I think we have the crew to do that.”

Limit’s navigator, Simon Fisher, is quietly confident also, believing his boat can match RÂN upwind. “For our boat we need some upwind work so the competitor in me wants upwind but the sailor in me would rather go downwind,” he jokes.

“What’s really nice here is there are lots of really competitive boats,” says RÂN’s Zennstrom. “The more the competition the better you’re going to sail your own boat and that’s what you’re here for. To race, not just to sail around by yourself.”

And if the weather, and that 30 knot westerly in Bass Strait on Monday, does turn out to favour the slower boats, don’t write off Simon Kurts’ Love & War. She has won the race three times already, and under the guidance of wily navigator Lindsay May she always sails at her best. The current forecast doesn’t seem to suit the old, heavy IOR boat that is fast to windward and dead slow downwind, but the unpredictability of this year’s modelling means May hasn’t given up all hope.

“We certainly prefer upwind. We are on a boat that will take four days or so to get to Hobart and the models at this point in time aren’t complete, they run out before we will be finishing. So you just have to wait. You sail in what you’ve got.”

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Santa delivers another sleigh ride to Hobart

Niklas Zennstrom, Barry Hanstrum, Mike Slade at the long range weather forecast. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

by Lisa Ratcliff

The 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart is shaping up as another uncharacteristically straightforward sleigh ride south for the big boats with the weekend’s forecast nor’easter putting Wild Oats XI on track to finish four hours ahead of its own race record, according to at least one forecast model.

“It seems like a long time since we’ve seen what we think of as a typical Rolex Sydney Hobart,” CYCA Commodore and skipper of Ichi Ban, Matt Allen, admitted today. “2004 was the last long slog upwind, which we think is the norm.

“RÁN, ICAP Leopard and [my boat] Ichi Ban would like some of that upwind work, because I think we’d sort out some of the other boats on first across the line and handicap. I think it’s going to be a fast, pleasant race,” he surmised.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Barry Hanstrum this morning delivered the long range race forecast, suggesting some inconsistency in the models with regards to the start at 1pm on Boxing Day, 26 December, due to the path of ex-tropical cyclone Laurence’ s inland track south east.

Following morning showers on Boxing Day, the 100-strong fleet is due to start in either the remnants of the Christmas Day southerly, or they will be greeted at the two start lines north of Shark Island by the beginnings of what is expected to develop into a decent 20-30 knot sea breeze on Sunday - putting the race record of 1 day 18 hours 40 minutes 10 seconds in jeopardy.

The lead boat has to cross the finish line off Hobart’s historic Battery Point by 7.40am Monday morning, 28 December, to break Wild Oats’ record set in 2005 when the Sydney maxi took the treble of line honours, fastest course time and the overall handicap win.

On Monday night, once the front runners are tucked up safely in Hobart, a 20-30 knot westerly change is due in eastern Bass Strait, leading skippers and organisers to speculate that this year’s chase for the coveted Tattersall’s Cup (handicap winner) will be fought amongst those in the small to mid fleet.

ICAP Leopard’s skipper Mike Slade, who hinted today this might be his last Rolex Sydney Hobart as an owner, said: “I like what we are seeing now. If we get 25 knots off Gabo island, that’s going to be very quick. We’ve got a big wide surfing boat, well built for that sort of slide.

“You’d say that a bash, like it looked like we might get yesterday, would favour us, but in your heart of hearts you think ‘Jesus, that’s not going to be much fun’.”

“Critical time will be on either side of Bass Strait, when you go left or you go right, and if you are in the lead you’d better get it right because the others can see you when you get it wrong.
“This looks like it will be a handicap race to me. It won’t be one where the big boats just burn off the smaller ones,” added this year’s Rolex Fastnet line honours winner.

ICAP Leopard is one of five maximum sized 100 footers preparing for the ocean classic that will start from Sydney Harbour this Saturday.

Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom is the owner of the UK JV72 RÁN, touted as one of the form boats going into this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart following the crew’s Rolex Fastnet Race handicap victory.

When asked about the local competition, he responded: “What’s really nice is there are lots of competitive boats here. The more competition, the better you’re going to sail your boat, and that’s what you’re here for, to race, not just to sail around by yourself.

“What we’ve seen during the Rolex Trophy, boats like Loki and Limit are going to be very competitive. If we have a lot of upwind work we will be favourite, but if it is light downwind it will be them. We don’t like light wind. It is our Achilles heel. We have more weight in the bulb and a fuller hull so we struggle.”

The Bureau will deliver its race forecast to all skippers at the official race briefings this Thursday at the host club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the first starting at 9am and the second starting at 11am (repeat of the first briefing).

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Process Between Arrival of Eltihad Stadium's Mast and Its Installation on the Boat

by Jennifer Crooks

Tuesday - Wednesday

Southern Spars and Hart marine team work 24hr shifts to prepare the sleeve, which is a 4mm thick carbon fibre mould taken from the inside of the mast.

All work for at least the first 8 hours will be on the ground, with the mast positioned in special work trolleys in the yards at Sydney City Marine.

The mast team will be grinding the outside of the mast with disc sanders to prepare for the joint, as well as continuing to work on the internal sleeve to span across the join.

Mast team will be laminating the mast which involves applying multiple layers of carbon fibre across the joint in various orientations.

Wednesday - Thursday

After the laminating process is complete, a heated environment consisting of thermal blankets will be built around the joint and the temperature will be slowly increased until it reaches 100 degrees Celsius, which will be maintained for some time. It will the be allowed to cool – after which time, it will be stepped into the deck. Cooking the mast and assembly will all take place in the boatyard.


At this stage, it is estimated that we will be installing the mast early Thursday morning, with half a day required to step it and tune it.

This delicate operation with 1000 kilos of carbon fibre will be undertaken by a crane on site at Sydney City Marine.

Once complete, and all going well, the Etihad Stadium Supermaxi crew is hoping to be out on the water for a test sail on Sydney Harbour on Thursday afternoon.

Cruising Yacht Club of Australia

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Seb Col Reflects on 2009

Seb Col looks back on his 2009 season, which was very rich in terms of experience. From the Louis Vuitton Trophy with ALL4ONE to the World Match Racing Tour, and from the RC44 to the Melges 24 circuit, Seb Col is one of the best and sharpest French sailors as of today in his category, sailing at the highest level on small or big boats, and that is his big strength. Always pushed by his motivation to improve among the best French and international sailors, Seb Col is already preparing his 2010 season after a busy year 2009, but which brought him a lot

by Stéphanie Nadin

Louis Vuitton Pacific Series with K-Challenge and Louis Vuitton Trophy with new team ALL4ONE (ACC Helmsman)
Seb Col: "The Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland were a fantastic experience, where we gathered the team, organized the logistics and the trainings in such a short timing.

"The team's creation and its management during the event have been very rich in terms of what we learned, even if now I think that all these responsibilities I had by then didn't allow me to free my mind completely during the event. For us the goal was to find an experimented person able to take over the sailing team's management. We found that person with Jochen Schümann, and we created a new French-German team: ALL4ONE.

"We took part to the Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice in November, where we finished 5th in front of BMW Oracle Racing and Artemis.

"We learn a lot sailing with sailors like Jordi Calafat, Yann Gouniot, John Cutler, Philippe Mourniac... One of my satisfactions was also to have my match racing crew on board, which allowed us to add more to our common experience (Gilles Favennec, Christophe André, Christian Scherrer)."

RC44 with Team Ceeref
Seb Col: "After having finished 3rd of the RC44 circuit in 2008 with Hiroshi, I joined the team at the beginning of the year after the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland. James Spithill was busy with BMW Oracle Racing, so he asked me to replace him.

"It is a great circuit, and it allows to sail on great boats, as it gathers very nice teams around top skippers (Coutts, Barker, Cayard, Davis, Jablonski, Wieser...). I took part to 4 events on the circuit out of 6, as I had some priorities on the World Match Racing Tour, so Cayard and Rod Davis joined the team successively while I was at the Match Race Germany and the Monsoon Cup.

"We finished 3rd of the 2009 circuit overall (fleet/match racing) and 1st of the match race ranking."

World Match Racing Tour - French Match Racing Team
Seb Col: "it is the project that is the most important to me. We just came back from Malaysia where we finished 4th. The season was disappointing, with a 7th place on the World's ranking. Some good things, but lots of bad moments, frustration and irritation. To make it short, a difficult season after our runner up title in 2008.

"One win only in the International championship held in Pornichet, France, but the team sticked together even in the difficult moments. From a personal point of view, I don't think that I managed to create a favorable environment and context for performance. I got irritated while not finding the explanations and solutions to the different problems we had to face. It is a good lesson. Things went very fast, between May and July the championship was game over for us.

"We have a debriefing with the French Sailing Federation and the French team in December, it will be the right opportunity to step back and to analyze the French results this season.

"A big thank you to Gilles Favennec, Christophe André, Erwan Israel, Christian Scherrer, Pascal Rambeau and Jean-Marie Dauris."

Melges 24 - Team Blumoon
Seb Col: "A great team gathered by Franco Rossini (Flavio Favini (Mascalzone), Celon (Alinghi), Rizzi (Luna Rossa), coach: Dave Ullman) and almost a come back to the beginning for me. The circuit is still of a very high level. We finished 3rd at the European Championships in Hyeres and 5th in the Worlds, with a special fabulous day where we won the 2 races in tough conditions, it is a great memory."

Tour de France Voile with team TPM/Hyeres
Seb Col: "it is always a great pleasure to sail together with this team, and moreover when we win races. We finished 2nd of the Tour de France Voile 2009."

Other 2009 important points and looking at the next 2010 season
Seb Col: "This year, I also followed the Vendee Globe, and Seb Josse and Kito de Pavant in particular, and it was very hard... But on the Transat Jacques Vabre, congratulations to Kito and François! François Gabart was our router during the same Transat in 2007 when I was sailing with Kito, he's really talented.

"2009 has also been for me: 182 sailing days, 56 days traveling, 12 days of meetings and PR activities.

"2010 will include the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Auckland and La Maddalena with ALL4ONE to start with, and for the rest I will now step back a bit to decide what I want to do. I'm also interested in new challenges. A few weeks of holidays will help me take the right decisions."

Sébastien Col

Monday 21 December 2009

Prelude to Boxing Day Classic

LOKI - Stephen Ainsworth. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

by Lisa Ratcliff

The two near sister Reichel/Pugh designs Alan Brierty's Limit and Stephen Ainsworth's Loki, finished first and second, just one point apart, in the Rolex Trophy Rating Series regatta, the major warm-up for the Rolex Sydney Hobart race which starts this Saturday, December 26.

The close competition between these year-old, well-settled, professionally-campaigned yachts, establishes them as among the top contenders for the Hobart race's major prize, the Tattersall's Cup for the overall winner on IRC handicap.

Both are Sydney-based, from the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race's host club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Limit is 63ft in length overall, Loki is 62ft, by virtue of a more plumb bow profile.

Limit's crew includes Volvo race and America's Cup veterans Ian ("Barney") Walker as principal helmsman and Rodney Keenan as tactician. Loki has Irish-born international sailor Gordon Maguire as sailing master. Maguire, who lives in Sydney, has sailed in 15 Hobart races.

The Rolex Trophy Rating Series, over four days of racing, tested boats and crews in broad spectrum of conditions. The first two days of short windward-leeward course racing, were gear-busting and body-bruising, with winds of 25-28 knots and rough, confused seas off the Sydney coastline.

The small fleet of grand-prix racers contesting the rating series were joined for the last two days by a fleet of 26 more yachts, ranging in size from the maxis Alfa Romeo (Neville Crichton) and Investec Loyal (Sean Langman) down to 30-footers, in the Rolex Trophy Passage Series of two races over 27nm and 19nm offshore courses.

Also emerging with Tattersall's Cup-winning prospects from this mix were the Judel/Vrolijk TP 52 Shogun (Rob Hanna), which placed third in the Rolex Rating Series and the three place-getters in the Rolex Trophy Passage Series: Geoff Ross' Reichel/Pugh 55 Yendys beat the UK-based Judel/Vrolijk 72 Ran (Niklas Zennstrom), with veteran Sydney racer Syd Fischer's Farr designed TP52 Ragamuffin in third.

Neville Crichton's Reichel/Pugh 100, Alfa Romeo won the first race of the passage series by more than 12 minutes on corrected time. As the maxis can do in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, Alfa Romeo got a huge jump on the smaller boats in a changing light air wind pattern. She reached all the way on one leg to the seaward mark and back before the wind shifted from west to south-southeast, giving the rest of the fleet a much slower dead downwind ride back to the harbour. Alfa Romeo did not compete in the second passage race, preferring to spend the time on sail evaluation and crew training.

In the Rolex Rating Series, Limit and Loki, went into the last race tied on equal points. Limit, badly beaten the previous day after a crew error jammed the furling system on its Code Zero reacher, made no mistakes this time.

"We went out an hour and a half early at the owner's orders and we trained, and we trained until we got it right and we fixed the problem," said principal helmsman Walker.

Limit had a good start and led Loki, who was boxed in by a bunch of boats congregated at the committee boat end of the starting line, on the outward leg to the seaward mark, and rounded seven minutes ahead.

Loki, gained on the light-air run back to Sydney Harbour to finish just over two minutes behind Limit. They finished second and third on corrected time behind Michael Hiatt's Farr 55 Living Doll, sailing the perfect race with UK-based Australian Volvo Ocean racer, Andrew Cape, navigating.

Despite the last-race win and a third in the first race, Living Doll, another Tattersall's Cup prospect, did not make the podium - retirements due to sail mishaps from two races on the rugged first two days of the Rolex Rating Series stuffed her chances.

Limit's owner Alan Brierty, puffing a cigar as he sat on the rail said after the last race: "A little bit nerve wracking. We got a good start and it's the old story when you get in front you've got to stay in front. Barney was sensational".

Barney Walker is pleased with the way Limit's campaign has come together, sharpened by the boat-on-boat competition with Loki. "When you've got two boats that are so close you really get the best out of them, and having that second yacht there does really keeps you honest," he said.

Loki's owner Stephen Ainsworth has a similar perspective: "We enjoy racing against each other because it's closely contested and we've learned to sail our boat better by racing against them."

Third-place Rolex Rating Series skipper Rob Hanna, from the strong Victorian offshore fleet, was competing on his Judel/Vrolijk TP52 Wot Now, a boat he had only purchased last month. But Wot Now has a good track record in the upcoming Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, finishing third overall in IRC in the 2008 edition.

His crew, including Sydneysiders tactician Steve McConaghy and helmsman Sean Kirkjian, added to Hanna's Victorian regulars, had not raced the boat before the opening day of the Rolex Rating Series. "The boat's fantastic and this has been a great learning curve so far," said Hanna.

A fleet of 100 yachts will compete in this year's race, which starts at 1300 AEDT, 26 December 2009. The Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet will have crews representing the USA, UK, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, and New Caledonia as well as every Australian state.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Sunday 20 December 2009

Rolex Trophy Rating Series: Limit wins the series – Living Doll the race

Prize Giving, from left: LIMIT Alan Brierty; OPTIMUM Guy Stening CYCA Commodore Matt Allen VELOCITY Brian Carrick RAGAMUFFIN John Bush YENDYS Geoff Ross Rolex Trophy Rating and Passage Series winners 2009. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

by Di Pearson

They judged the Shark Island start perfectly, were the third yacht heading out of Sydney Harbour and then Alan Brierty and his Limit crew mowed down the JV 72 RÁN, gybing inside her under spinnaker, with the finish line in sight, catching a nice puff to beat RÁN, and more importantly, Loki, their main adversary for the series.

Although Limit (CYCA) finished Race 6 second overall behind Michael Hiatt’s Living Doll, it was enough to give Brierty’s yacht the Series by one point from near-sistership and major rival, Loki, Stephen Ainsworth’s RP 63, which finished today’s 19 nautical mile Passage Race third overall after the two went into the decider on equal points.

Brierty was once again wearing the trademark grin, which was not in evidence yesterday after Limit’s fourth place finish which briefly cost them the lead of the four-day Rolex Trophy Rating Series.

LIMIT - Alan Brierty, winner of the Rolex Trophy Rating Series, Division 0 / 1. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

Limit’s helmsman, Ian ‘Barney’ Walker, said a rope twisted on their furler while rolling up their Code Zero and cost them the race and the series lead yesterday. “Alan had a dummy spit and made us go out early this morning and do some training so there’d be no problems today,” said Walker with Brierty nodding his head in agreement.

Walker said today was a lot smoother: “We timed our start well; we were four lengths from the Committee Boat and got clear air and everything went well after that.

As confirmed by others in the fleet, Walker said: “We had to work hard in the shifty pressure and it was a difficult seaway.

“We opened up a good lead on Loki working the southern side of the course coming home, there was less current there. In the last 15 minutes of the race we took more out of Loki.”

It was a difficult day, with light 5-8 knot east-south-easterly breezes that were patchy at best. The race started at Shark Island and took the fleet to an offshore mark 9.5 nautical miles seaward from North Head and return under spinnaker to the finish in Watsons Bay.

Of the ongoing battle between Limit and Loki, Walker confirmed: “There’s little between us. While we’re both very competitive, we show each other respect. When two boats are so close it’s all good, it works to your advantage, as long as you respect each other.”

LIVING DOLL Michael Hiatt Rolex Trophy Passage Series 2009. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

Michael Hiatt’s Farr 55 Living Doll has sailed a mixed series, a bout of minor hiccups causing a little frustration which was brushed aside today when they won the final race of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia organised series by just over three minutes.

“We had a good start,” Hiatt, from Melbourne said. “We went the right way after the start in what were tough conditions; it was pretty light with a lot of bump.

Asked about the issues he’s had with his Living Doll this week, Hiatt, who finished the Series fourth overall responded, “They were minor things and we are taking away a lot from these four days of sailing, the conditions were so different every day.

Both Barney Walker and Hiatt agreed that the yachts in the 50 to 60 feet range would be the most difficult to beat come the Rolex Sydney Hobart, citing Loki, Yendys (Geoff Ross’ RP 55), Quest and Ragamuffin among them.

Commenting on Rolex Fastnet Race overall winner, RÁN, Niklas Zennstrom’s JV 72, Walker said: “We know it’s fast in breeze, but it struggles in light air as we all saw today. It seemed faster upwind, but we were definitely faster downwind today.

“If Hobart is a completely upwind race in moderate conditions, I’ll put a wager on her, as it will make its time on the other yachts.”

A well-sailed Shogun finished the Series a good third overall. Victorian yachtsman Rob Hanna only purchased the former Wot Now, a JV 52, in November and adding a few new crew to his solid core of Melbourne sailors, sailed his first race series on the boat at the Rolex Trophy Rating Series. He says he and the crew are ready to tackle the Rolex Sydney Hobart which starts in six days time.

In the light airs of today’s race, former Farr 30 world champion Guy Stening and his Farr 30 Optimum revelled in the light breezes to steal the Division 2 win from Paul Clitheroe’s Balance, with Chris Dare’s Audi Centre Melbourne third. “A fantastic regatta, really well organised,” enthused Stening. “It’s terrific to come away with the win after a great tussle with Balance and The Philosopher’s Club.

“Friday really was the glamour day on the water, the boat relished in the conditions. The light conditions today also suited the boat, which showed in our performance. We had great teamwork aboard for all four days.

“I’m very happy to add another title to the ever-growing list (apart from his Worlds win, Stening also won the Farr 30 Nationals and finished second in the in the 2008 Rolex Trophy). “I was very happy to go one better this year,” Stening said.

“If I had to be beaten, I’m glad it was by a world champion; we’ll get him next time,” quipped Clitheroe, a fellow CYCA member.

“Dragging 12 tonnes of Beneteau (he owns a Beneteau First 45) through 6-8 knots of breeze, we struggled to get going today. Optimum is much lighter than us, so they were able to fly away in those conditions.

The “Money-Man” echoed the thoughts of other skippers in the Series this afternoon: “We were really happy with the change in format to the Rolex Trophy Rating Series,” he said, referring to the addition of two Passage Races.

“It was perfect training for the Hobart race and we had a great variety of conditions each day,” said Clitheroe as he and Stening congratulated each other.

In the two race Passage Series, Investec LOYAL, Sean Langman’s 100 footer took line honours in 3 hours 3min 45sec, but it was Geoff Ross’ RP 55 Yendys (CYCA) that scored the race win and took the series from RÁN and Syd Fischer’s TP 52 Ragamuffin, with Ray Roberts’ Evolution Racing fourth. All are Rolex Sydney Hobart overall honours contenders for the Tattersall’s Cup.

“I’m very happy,” said Geoff Ross on stepping ashore this afternoon. “I won the Hobart in 1999, so I think it’s about time for another win,” he said laughing.

“We had four days of completely different racing, a fantastic regatta and perfect preparation for the Rolex Sydney Hobart. We’re in good shape,” said Ross who had unofficially sailed the windward/leeward courses.

“We were shut out of the start today, but we worked our way back in pretty quickly. The Passage Race Series was a great innovation and addition to the Rolex Trophy.

Rolex Trophy Rating Series

TODAY: Monsoon Cup Highlights, TVNZ Channel 1 at 2pm

by David Swete

For all Kiwi sailing enthusiasts and BlackMatch supporters, there is a 1 hour television special on the Monsoon Cup today. TVNZ are featuring highlights of the final World Tour Event which saw us beat Ben Ainslie 3 nil in the final and take out the World Match Racing Title for 2009. The programme will start at 2pm today on TV1 and with undoubtably some of the best onboard coverage in sailing to date, it is not to be missed. Please spread the word about the show as for anyone having a lazy Sunday afternoon it will make for awesome viewing and BlackMatch would greatly appreciate the support.

BlackMatch Racing is Adam Minoprio, Dan McLean, David Swete, Tom Powrie and Nick Blackman.

BlackMatch Racing

Rolex Trophy Passage Series – Alfa Romeo comes out firing

Start of the Rolex Trophy Passage Series Race 1. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

by Di Pearson

Neville Crichton and his Alfa Romeo crew made short work of Day 1 of the Rolex Trophy Passage Series, taking line and handicap honours in today’s 27 nautical mile Passage Race. The 100 footer from New Zealand took just one hour 48 mins 25 secs to complete the course, also picking up the coveted overall IRC handicap win.

Two separate fleets sailed the course today; the Rolex Trophy Rating Series Division 1 and 2 competitors, who are on Day 3 of their series having already contested two days of windward/leeward racing, and the 21-yacht fleet in the Passage Series.

In what was ultimately a reaching race for the top half of the fleet, it was a comfortable offshore race sailed under a sunny sky on relatively flat seas. The yachts reached around the course that took them from the start at Shark Island to a Rolex mark laid offshore, to the finish in Watsons Bay, tucked just inside Sydney Heads.

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson said: “We were expecting a southerly wind, so set up the course that way. Instead, the fleet started in a lightish 10 knot breeze that was west of south-west and slowly bent round to the south and picked up to 18 knots after the bigger yachts had finished.

As the two fleets comprising 32 boats got underway off the same start line, Alfa Romeo led, making 20 knots of boat speed as she charged up the Harbour. Most popped spinnakers off the start line, Black Jack, Peter Harburg’s RP 66 from Queensland, coming unstuck early with a spinnaker problem that took more than 10 minutes to sort out, costing them dearly.

Bruce Taylor, a veteran of 28 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Races finished the day second overall on his IRC 40, Chutzpah, with Niklas Zennstrom’s RÁN third.

Onboard Chutzpah, a Melbourne entry, is Kingsley Piesse, a 26 Rolex Sydney Hobart race veteran who this week won the Ocean Racing Crew Person of the Year award at the CYCA.

Commenting on his performance today, owner Taylor said: “Conditions really suited our boat. We got a good start which helped, and going out to sea we could see up ahead and who was doing well. Having a spinnaker that was built for light, shy, reaching was also really useful today.

“It was a great work out for Hobart,” said Taylor confessing, “There were a few crew whoopsies; we’re a bit rusty as we haven’t really sailed as a group since Hamilton Island.”

RAN Nikklas Zenstrom AUDI CENTRE MELBOURNE Chris Dare Rolex Trophy Passage Series 2009. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

A lot of nervous eyes were on the international challenger RÁN today, having her first proper hit-out in Australian waters. Niklas Zennstrom’s JV 72 from the United Kingdom did not disappoint.

Considering the crew has only had a couple of days to unload the thoroughbred from a ship at Port Kembla, get her to Sydney and put her together again, they had a good opening day with third on line honours and overall. Boat and crew will be back on the water tomorrow for the final race of the Series.

Declared the overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race in August, RÁN is highly rated as a chance to take out the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starting in a week’s time. Representing the United Kingdom, Zennstrom has said he is keen to win the Rolex Hobart, which starts on Boxing Day at 1.00pm.

Sean Langman’s 100ft Investec LOYAL finished the race second over the line after suffering spinnaker problems heading to the top mark. Langman finished 20 minutes astern of Alfa Romeo.

Rolex Trophy Passage Series

Rolex Trophy Rating Series: Loki throws a spanner in the works

LOKI and LIMIT, Rolex Trophy 2009. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

by Di Pearson

Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki has thrown a spanner in the works of near-sistership Limit, owned by Alan Brierty, today taking control of the Rolex Trophy Rating Series after winning the 27 nautical mile Passage Race which started on Sydney Harbour in a fickle west of sou-west breeze.

Limit, an RP 62 from the CYCA, has come up trumps over her adversary over the last two days on the windward/leeward courses; the two vigorously match racing much to the joy of onlookers. Loki, an RP 63, came unstuck on Day 1 when her shaft drive dropped; causing some damage and leaving the way clear for Limit, which led the Series going into racing today.

However, it was Loki’s turn in the Passage Race. “Conditions were changeable, but it was basically a reach in and a reach out for the first few boats. The breeze bent to the south as we were coming to the finish, so there was a little bit of downwind. It was quite fluky coming into the Harbour,” CYCA member Ainsworth explained.

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson said: “We were expecting a southerly wind, so set up the course that way. Instead, the fleet started in a 10 knot breeze that was west of south-west and slowly bent round to the south.

“I’m happy with our start and our performance. RÁN didn’t catch us until the sea mark. She literally caught us going around the mark; she must have had a bad start,” Ainsworth said, speaking about the JV 72 that everyone has their eyes on.

“We’ll have everything to race for tomorrow,” Ainsworth added, referring to the constant pressure of Limit, which although now in second place, is on equal seven points with Loki after a disappointing fourth place today.

Loki also has Rob Hanna’s recently purchased JV 52 Shogun to deal with also. Although Hanna and his crew sailed the boat for the first time in this Series two days ago, they are performing exceptionally well. A second place overall today puts them just two points behind the top two.

FLYING CLOUD Howard Piggott Rolex Trophy Passage Series 2009. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

Audi Centre Melbourne, Chris Dare’s Corby 49 from Victoria, notched up her first win of the Series to lift her into fourth place in Division 2. Much preferring leg-stretching races, Dare said this afternoon: “Conditions were lovely, it was nice to stretch out a bit after the last couple of days.

“The start was definitely a rehearsal for the Rolex Sydney Hobart, same spot, a couple of 100 footers around, a gybe out! We got a good start and were eighth out the Heads – you can’t knock that.”

Dare hit the nail on the head. Today’s start was a bit of a Rolex Sydney Hobart dress rehearsal.

Between the two fleets racing today were just about every boat being considered for line and handicap honours wins; Alfa Romeo (Neville Crichton) and Investec LOYAL (Sean Langman), at 100ft both are line honours favourites; RÁN, Loki, Limit, Ragamuffin, Yendys, Living Doll and Evolution Racing, all handicap odds-on favourites.

“For the Hobart, we’re hoping for reaching and running. We can hang on to the TP52s uphill but the windier it is the more they stretch out,” Dare said.

Audi Centre Melbourne hit a stumbling block on the first day when crew member Andrew Plympton failed to call the layline correctly. According to crew member Stumpy Harris, he caused the boat quite a bit of time after they overlayed the mark.

Yesterday’s Division 2 Series leader, Balance, owned by Paul Clitheroe, continues to lead after the Beneteau First 45 (CYCA) sailed home fast to a third place. Guy Stening’s Farr 30, Optimum, remains second on the pointscore, after placing second in today’s race with Peter Sorensen’s Sydney 36 The Philosopher’s Club third.

Two separate fleets sailed the course today; the Rolex Trophy Rating Series Divisions 1 and 2 competitors who are on Day 3 of their series having already contested two days of windward/leeward racing. They were joined by a fleet of 21, including Alfa Romeo, contesting the Rolex Passage Series consisting of today’s race and a second Passage Race due to start at 10am tomorrow morning north of Shark Island.

Most of the fleet popped spinnakers after the 10am start signal was made, making their way out of the Harbour off the Shark Island start line in a 10 knot sou-wester and gybing out to a mark offshore. Black Jack, Peter Harburg’s RP 66 from Queensland, was the first to come unstuck with a spinnaker problem that took more than 10 minutes to sort out, costing them dearly.

Loki went wide of South Head, but others such as Limit and Black Jack went in under the rocky cliffs, slowing up in the lee until they found the breeze again.

Rolex Trophy Rating Series